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Sci-fi writers avoid units LIKE THE PLAGUE.


Anime and Manga

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion suffers from this. Pretty much all the Techno Babble related to the Evas (especially in the "Ritsuko shouts at a monitor and defeats the Angel" episodes) is given without units ("It's decreased by 0.3!"), although they do occasionally remember to use units for things like sizes. There's also plenty of cases of unitless numbers stated to absurd degrees of precision and probability calculations involving complete unknowns.
    • Of course, units were lobbed off and scales not even mentioned whenever possible in regards to the titular cyborgs in order to justify drawing them to wildly-varying Rule of Cool proportions (which is, of course, negated once you realize human pilots stand next to the Evas quite frequently). To balance this out, numbers that were of absolute importance to the plot that actually had units - "5 minutes" of internal battery power - didn't matter either.
  • The talking computer (or whatever it is) in Voices of a Distant Star does this a few times, saying that enemy units are "at twenty thousand" or similar things. It isn't even all that clear what type of unit this is; it's probably a distance, but it could be the number of uneaten sandwiches they have in storage, for all we know.


Comicbooks

  • Galactus is often called the "slayer of millions", when he has been devouring inhabited worlds at a rate varying from once a century (early in his life) to once a month (more recently) since shortly after the Big Bang. This is... technically accurate, but not really indicative of the real scale of things. Even if the "millions" is a count of worlds, he would already be well into the billions by now.
  • There are about 7200 Green Lanterns to patrol the entire Universe. Considering how big 1/7200th of the Universe is, it is little wonder the Green Lantern Corps has failed to stamp out evil in the cosmos: sheer lack of manpower.


Film

  • In Stealth, one of EDI has somehow downloaded "all the music on the Internet". The theoretical sum of all music on the Internet would be measured in petabytes, if not exabytes, and would require a hardware mainframe hundreds of times larger than EDI himself. Not to mention it would take him days upon days to download it all.


Literature

  • In Dune there is talk of the need to raise "four or five" battalions to defend an entire planet against invasion. Assuming that a "battalion" is the same size as it is in real life, this would consist of no more than a few thousand troops.


Live-Action TV

  • In Farscape Zhaan claims to have searched planets for three people in hiding, over a period of time roughly equivalent to 20 days. Of course, they also mention how completely ridiculous the chances of finding them actually are, so maybe it's just supposed to show how desperate she was.
  • Most battles in Babylon 5, even planetary bombardments, only have a few thousand deaths. The only one with a more than a million had asteroids, and that took weeks of nonstop dropping). One of the canonical novels says that 600 million Narns died in the bombardment, however in Season 3 Straczynski said that only '5 or 6 million' Narns had died, which seems preposterously unlikely.
  • Throughout Star Trek, unit numbers fluctuated wildly between the various series. The original series said there were only 12 Constitution-class ships, and showed little evidence of any others on Starfleet's possession; in The Next Generation there were initially only six Galaxy-class ships built, with another six on order, and a loss of 39 vessels against the Borg at Wolf 359 was apparently a total catastrophe that crippled Starfleet. By Deep Space Nine the Federation was regularly committing as many as six hundred ships at a time to individual battles with the Dominion; and in response to questions about the unexpectedly-high registry numbers of Voyager and Defiant, Ronald Moore went on record as saying that Starfleet probably had at least thirty thousand ships. One could assume that Starfleet registries cover everything from Starships to shuttles to orbital transports, which might help matters some.
    • When it was written, the Battle of the Wolf was supposed to be a massive loss of Starships, until people wrote in concerning this trope. It was later Retconned to be only the fleet stationed on Earth itself, and the tragedy was that those were 39 of Starfleet's best ships with their best crews. It would be similar to Britain losing the entire Royal Guard to a single enemy ship. Numerically, it wouldn't significantly harm the army, but it would be a massive psychological blow.


Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000 has this off and on, likely as a result of the huge number of different writers and developers who have worked on it. At times, distances, timescales and the number of soldiers needed to launch a sector-spanning crusade are handled "realistically", but just as often a few hundred Space Marines purge an entire world in a few weeks. Bear in mind that it's easy to interpret it as Imperial propaganda, as nearly every time such events are explored in detail (namely the novels) it presents the Space Marines as a "spearhead" force, with the Imperial Guard performing the majority of the grunt work.
    • In one of the background books, it is mentioned that it took around twenty years to totally pacify a sector with the combined strength of an entire Crusade and that this is a remarkably short time.
    • Several planetary wars are often played out in a matter of weeks or months. Keep in mind that World War 2 took a good few years to finish. However there are some justifications, the biggest of which is that most of these are global campaigns, which are global events real players can participate in. It would seriously suck to have to wait 4-5 years for the results of a summer event.
  • Only the Planetville nature of the BattleTech universe combined with its quasi-feudal nature can really explain how, given the bottleneck of interstellar travel, any major planet ever changes hands as the result of an invasion. The thought of using some non-microscopic fraction of the industrial capacity of an entire world to create a defensive force that would simply swamp a few dozen 'Mechs dropping out of the sky by weight of numbers is never seen to enter anybody's mind.
    • One of the ways that the game rules attempt to justify this is that it takes significantly more damage to disable a BattleMech than another vehicle of comparable tonnage. A "decent anti-tank rifle" will accomplish squat against a 'Mech under the rules, as a well-armored 'Mech can shrug off dozens of anti-vehicle missiles without suffering systems damage. Realistic? No, but it does serve the purpose of the game (giant robots pounding away at each other) better than more realistic rules would.


Star Wars

Star Wars is incredibly prone to presenting an inaccurate sense of scale.

  • In the Attack of the Clones movie, there was a mention of two hundred thousand units being ready and a million more well on the way. Cracking open the movie novelization, we find out that the million more well on the way equated a million clone warriors (the term "unit" was referring to a unit of production). 1.2 million clones for a million star system Republic? Coruscant alone has a trillion people on it. Later Star Wars Expanded Universe sources upped that to three million clones. Not. Much. Better.
    • There obviously wasn't much coordination between the writers, since the EU droid numbers were in quintillions. For some perspective, a quadrillion droids represents an occupation force of about 1 billion droids per star system in the million system Republic. The quintillions figure offered is even more ridiculous, seeing as that translates into trillions of droids per star system in a galaxy where planets like Coruscant are the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, the Separatists represented a small percentage of that Republic plus a few greedy major corporations, and yet they're supposed to have an army that could occupy it a thousand times over? And given how many of the Separatists were basically in it for the money and were under the impression that a destabilized galaxy could increase their profit margins, just how cheap are battle-droids that one could deploy quadrillions/quintillions of them (and all the requisite maintenance and transport), and still come out with a profit? What's particularly crazy is that the Attack of the Clones movie novelization mentions "trillions of commonfolk" in the Republic. The Separatists somehow fielded an army somewhere between several hundred and several million times the combined population of the Republic. Eventually, the Republic Commando books retconned it such that the quintillions figure was merely propaganda, which created it's own problems.
    • In Shatterpoint, Mace Windu points out that the million-odd clones work out to roughly one per system, and suggests that the majority of the fighting, especially in the less-critical areas, is being done by regular militia forces.
    • Meanwhile, there seems to be only one military academy - admittedly one which takes up most of a planet - for the entire galaxy. For comparison, there are four in the USA alone, and that's not counting the three major service academies. There are others referred to occasionally, but one gets the spotlight far more disproportionately than the others.
  • 10,000 Jedi. How exactly are 10,000 Jedi supposed to keep peace across the galaxy? However, that was the point, as the Jedi were too few in number to be at all effective, allowing things like the Separatists to pop up (and giving them the justification to secede in the first place, what with the Republic lacking an effective peacekeeping force) and giving Palaptine all the room to manoeuvre he needed.
  • In the New Jedi Order the New Republic, losing planets to the invading Yuuzhan Vong left and right, is described as having problems finding shelter and food for millions of refugees. (Of course, there's always the probability most of the population didn't survive long enough to become refugees.)
    • The official death toll of the Yuuzhan Vong War was 365 trillion people. Note that their invasion path occupies less than a quarter of the galaxy, in most cases they don't make an effort to actually wipe out the defenders, and the Republic isn't actually that big for a galactic society: Coruscant has a trillion people, but planets like Corellia have a much more Earth-like population density, and given the prominence of each one there can't be that many worlds this size. Most of the worlds in the Republic seem to have far, far fewer people. Their fleets aren't going to make up the balance either, since even one trillion people makes up the crew of some thirty million Imperial Star Destroyers.
  • Some of this is the result of the Star Wars Expanded Universe having an extremely inconsistent portrayal of its basic scale. The movies give numbers in the range of "tens of thousands of worlds", including a lot of marginally developed worlds, while some EU sources bump this up to "millions of worlds" with a lot more development. Somewhere along the line, the math is bound to not add up.


Videogames

  • The Armored Core series is a serial offender here, all the stats (armour strength, speed, weight, weaponry hitting power, generator capacity, lock on range, radar scanning speed and area, etc) are measured in numbers, with absolutely no indication of what unit of measurement is being used for any of them (except temperature and speed during gameplay, which are measured in Degrees.C and km/h respectively).
  • Jeff Waynes War Of The World gets around this by giving the Martians nonsense Martian units like heat ray output in krk.
  • Mechwarrior 4 has a heat gauge that measures your reactor's temperature in hundreds of degrees Kelvin. This wouldn't be such a big deal (it can range up to about 1400 degrees, a substantial but by no means unreasonable temperature swing) if it didn't start at zero. In the Kelvin scale, zero means absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible. However, Mechwarrior Living Legends seems to use the ambient temperature of the mech itself as the heat gauge - not the reactor's temperature. If you're in a lava environment, the heat gauge hovers at 300+ degrees Celsius, whereas an arctic environment has the gauge hovering at -20 Celsius.


Webcomics


Western Animation

 Zurg: Give them... a hundred evil! No, wait, a thousand evil! No, make it a MILLION evil! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Grub: Gee, that's awfuly daring, your evilness, seeing as you only have an Evilness rating of 13.

Zurg: Oh. Well, um, on second thought, how about we just give them a twelve.

    • There was also the whole episode which consisted of Zurg and the Rangers building bigger and bigger mechs. "And you're sure there is nothing bigger than grande?" "Meet my Vente range bot!"

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